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Category: Sports

Blue Tide surge with sophomore Rutherford


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

A little more than a year ago, Noel Colon heard through the grapevine that he was getting an excellent basketball player by the name of Quincy Rutherford.

So the Harrison High School boys’ basketball coach was excited. He was taking over the Blue Tide program and was getting a newcomer with all the talent in the world.

There was only one problem. The new found would-be star was gone before he could take a jump shot for the Blue Tide. “He grew up in Harrison, but then left before the season began,” Colon said of Rutherford. Instead on enrolling at Harrison High, Rutherford and his sister, Marla, were attending Passaic County Tech.

“My mother wanted us to stay close to her,” Rutherford said. “It didn’t matter to me, as long as I was playing basketball.”

However, Rutherford’s fate changed when his parents decided that the best thing would be to move back to Harrison so he could attend school there.

“Midway through his freshman year, he came back,” Colon said. “There was like a week left in the basketball season, so he didn’t play with us. But he played in the gym and the kids would talk about him a lot.”

Last summer, when the Blue Tide played in a summer league in Kearny, Colon got to see Rutherford’s talents on a regular basis.

“My assistant coach Dana John (the former New Jersey City University standout) called me and said, ‘Coach, we have ourselves a player. The kid can play.’ I then saw him and could see that he could shoot the ball, put the ball on the floor, drive. He was skilled. We knew we had something to work with.”

Rutherford, who admittedly loves the sport of basketball, was readied for his sophomore year at Harrison by drilling with his father, Marlon.

“My dad knows a lot about the game,” Rutherford said. “He helped me a lot. We worked on my ball handling and explosiveness.”

Needless to say, the 6-foot-3 Rutherford was definitely prepared to make a big splash with the Blue Tide.

“I was excited to have him,” Colon said. “You can do all the coaching in the world, but at the end of the day, you need talent. There are not many kids like Quincy walking around in Harrison. I can play him anywhere on the floor. He walks into the gym and with his size, you assume he’s the center. The opponents have no idea that he can put the ball on the floor and is able to go by people.

He also makes plays for other people.” Rutherford had a solid debut against Queen of Peace, but then turned his ankle. Everyone thought that the future superstar was finished before he actually began.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Rutherford said. “I knew I could come back. I was a little shaky, but I was okay. I was able to play right away.”

And play he did. Rutherford went on to register in double figures in 23 of the Blue Tide’s 25 games, including an amazing streak of 18 consecutive games.

“I didn’t even know that,” Rutherford said. “I wasn’t worried about scoring. I knew that I just wanted to help the team out however I could and help the team win. It just happened that way. I didn’t know it was happening.”

Rutherford ended up scoring a total of 374 points, a great total for a sophomore. He averaged 15.4 points per game, seven rebounds and four assists.

Over the last week of the season, Rutherford scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds in a win over Dwight- Englewood, had 19 points and nine rebounds in a win over Ridgefield and tallied 20 points in a loss to North Bergen in the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals.

For his efforts, Rutherford has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Colon said that Rutherford continued to improve during the course of the season as he led the Blue Tide to an impressive 17-8 record.

“We know that he’s going to play at the next level, be it (NCAA) Division II or Division III,” Colon said. “And he’s going to have to be a guard. He brought the ball up for us a lot this year. He’s only a sophomore and has the opportunity to grow a little, but he’s a guard on the next level. He’s really a special player. He’s a very good shooter. He’s also a strong kid. I didn’t realize how strong he is, especially going to the basket.”

Colon knows that Rutherford is destined to become the next 1,000-point scorer in Harrison history.

“He’s going to get his 1,000,” Colon said. “He’s well on his way. He’s a very nice kid, very coachable. He’s very dedicated, working out with his father, so he’s definitely going to get better. He’s also usually the first one to practice and wants to take 15-to-20 minutes after practice to work on his shooting. He takes the game very seriously.”

Colon also pointed out that Rutherford was selected to First Team All-New Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division, so he received the respect of opposing coaches.

“The one thing that stands out to me is his consistency,” Colon said. “It’s good to have the kind of consistency Quincy gave us. He would make the big shots, knock down a couple shots in a row and get us going. It’s good to have that. Because of his work ethic and how he approaches the game, I know his future is bright. I’m expecting some pretty big things from him.”

Rutherford said that he hasn’t thought about colleges just yet. After all, he’s only a sophomore.

“I don’t know about playing in college, but as the years go on, I guess I’ll start to think that way,” Rutherford said. “I know I’m going to become way better. Playing college basketball has always been a dream for me, so I’m going to continue to work hard and try to get better.”

Rutherford said that he might play AAU basketball during the summer months and, if he does, hopes that someone takes notice of his talents.

“I’m pretty happy with the way the season went,” said Rutherford, whose season ended with a loss to Newark Tech in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II tournament last week. “I wish we could have made a better statement in the states. But it was a good year.”

And with better years to come, hopefully in Harrison, for the budding superstar with the memorable name of Quincy Rutherford.

There’s no holding back the Blair Train


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

As the girls’ high school basketball season was drawing to a close, Nutley High School had a non-descript 9-13 record. The Maroon Raiders weren’t exactly lighting the world on fire.

But Nutley head coach Larry Mitschow thought that his team could be competitive in the state tournament for a few reasons, despite having the No. 13 seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III playoffs.

“We played a tough schedule in Essex County (in the Super Essex Conference),” Mitschow said. “So I thought we could hang around in the state tournament. Plus, we had Blair.”

The secret weapon is junior forward Blair Watson, who has been brilliant all season, but even better in the state playoffs.

In fact, Watson has been the big reason why the Maroon Raiders haven’t called it a season just yet.

“Blair has definitely carried us, no question,” Mitschow said. “She’s scoring 80% of our points.”

Watson scored 31 points in the opening round win over West Morris, tallied 21 in the second round win over Orange and last Saturday, Watson had 34 of her team’s 43 points in a 43-38 win over Mendham to advance to the sectional finals against Voorhees, the No. 2 seed.

The North 2, Group III title game was slated to be played Monday night after press time.

Watson drained an incredible eight 3-point field goals in the win over Mendham, a perennial state power.

“No one player could stop her,” Mitschow said. “At the end of the game, they had two and three people on her. She was amazing. She hit some tough shots with kids in her face. She was definitely on.”

The 6-foot-1 Watson has proven that she’s deserving of the scholarship she has already received and accepted from the University of Maryland.

“She’s hitting the 3-pointer regularly now,” Mitschow said. “But she’s also going to the basket more, taking the dribble drive to the rim. We told each one of our players what they needed to do. Blair was very receptive to us telling her what we thought her weakness was and she’s doing that, going to the basket and the free throw line.”

The Maroon Raiders have now won seven straight, including the three wins on the road in the state tournament.

“If someone told me at the beginning of the year that we would be playing for a state sectional title, I would have said, ‘No way,’” Mitschow said. “I knew we could make a run, but to make the finals, probably not. I never would have believed this.”

While Watson has been doing the bulk of the work offensively, Mitschow credited the work of Jen Callaghan and Sara Grueter on defense.

“Those two have definitely stepped up defensively,” Mitschow said. “They were non-stop, working all game. They have been tremendous on the defensive side of things.”

Mitschow also credited the team’s camaraderie. After all, the Maroon Raiders have spent a lot of time on buses lately, especially two long journeys to western Morris County to face West Morris and then Mendham. Ironically, those two are sister schools and they both got in the way of the Blair Train.

“She’s carrying us,” Mitschow said. “You can see it in her face. Without her doing what she’s doing, averaging close to 30 per game, there’s no way we’re here or anywhere close to it. But Blair is relishing the role.”

Mitschow knows that his team is the underdog, despite having one of the best players in the state.

“I don’t know many 13th seeds that advance this far,” Mitschow said. “You look at each Group and there is a bunch of No. 1 seeds and No. 2 seeds. We’re the only dark horse out there. But a lot of it is because of Blair.”

Mitschow was asked if he thought Watson was an All- State player.

“Well, if she’s not All- State, I don’t know who is,” Mitschow said. “In my opinion, she’s the best girl in Essex County and Essex County basketball is great.”

There might be only one thing to slow down the Blair Train – and that’s traffic. Saturday, the Maroon Raiders’ team bus had a tough time getting out of Nutley because of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “It took us a half hour to get out of Nutley,” Mitschow said. There should have been no traffic difficulties Monday night on the way along Rt. 78 west toward Glen Gardner and Voorhees.

“I know that a lot of people plan on coming,” Mitschow said. “I hope the gym can hold everyone.”

It might not be able to hold back Blair Watson, that’s for sure.

Rolling on to the Eastern Regionals


By Kevin Canessa Jr.

Observer Correspondent 

Ryen Pezzolla probably never gave much thought to playing roller hockey at a Division I university when he first started playing the sport when he was a 3-year-old.

But now, more than 15 years later, the grandson of The Observer’s general manager Robert Pezzolla is doing just that — and he’s so good he’s been named a finalist for the Eastern Collegiate Roller Hockey Association’s Division I Player of the Year.

Pezzolla plays roller hockey for Rutgers University.

The St. Peter’s Prep alum scored an astonishing 52 goals in just 17 games played this season, the most of anyone playing college roller hockey in the entire country. But the modest Pezzolla was hardly ready to take credit for his personal accomplishments. Instead, he was more interested in the team’s overall accomplishments.

“We’re 11-6-1 in the Eastern Conference,” Pezzolla said. “But when you play with a guy like (teammate) Jeff O’Connell, it’s a lot easier. We have a lot of great chemistry when we play together.”

Last year, when Pezzolla was a senior playing ice hockey for the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep, he says he got four offers to play ice hockey in college. He had a great senior season and even played an outdoor game at Yankee Stadium, something that was possible because of the NHL’s Outdoor Stadium Series that saw the Devils play the Rangers and the Rangers play the Islanders.

Despite this — and playing four years of ice hockey at the Prep — Pezzolla says his true love was for roller hockey.

“I love ice hockey and I miss it, but I’ve been playing roller hockey much longer than I played ice hockey,” he said. “I knew the coach at Rutgers. I really liked him. So really, it was a decision I had to make. I wanted to play roller over ice. “It’s a decision I don’t regret at all.” Of course, he says he does miss the game on ice.

“I do miss it, but I know I made the right decision to play roller,” Pezzolla said.

And, he says, playing roller hockey has actually offered him greater opportunities.

Soon, he’ll be playing in the Eastern Regionals in Pennsylvania, and the team that wins the tournament gets a cash incentive to be used by the team (individual players don’t make money).

“There’s $10,000 up for grabs,” he said.

He’ll also play in another tournament in Pennsylvania.

“The competition is great — and the sport is growing,” Pezzolla said. “In just a few years, there have been a lot more teams playing roller. I’m very happy to be playing the game and the sport.”

And with luck, fairly soon, he’ll be recognized as the country’s best player in that sport.

Nutley’s Ferinde, QP’s Velez bring home Region 4 wrestling gold

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

A year ago, Joe Ferinde had to face the reality that he lost in the NJSIAA Region 4 wrestling finals.

At the same time, Jeff Velez was at another venue altogether, winning the Region 3 championship.

Last Saturday, Ferinde, the Nutley senior, and Velez, the Queen of Peace senior, were crowned as Region 4 champs at West Orange High School.

Ferinde, the top seed in the 126-pound class, defeated Kareem Askew of Clifton, 8-4, to earn his first Region championship. Ferinde also defeated former teammate Anthony DeLorenzo, now wrestling for Queen of Peace, 3-1, in the semifinals.

“I was the runner-up last year, so I really wanted to win this year,” said Ferinde, who improved to a stellar 35-2 after winning three matches in the Region 4 tourney. “Going into the tournament, I knew I was in one of the toughest weight classes. I knew I was going to have to battle.”

Velez, who won the Region 3 title last year wrestling for Brearley Regional, transferred to Queen of Peace this year to be with coach Scot Weaver.

Weaver formerly coached at Brearley, but decided to come back and restore the QP program that he initiated several years ago.

“Coach Weaver has helped me so much,” said Velez, who defeated Mauro Altamura of Hasbrouck Heights, 6-2, to claim the 195-pound championship. “I don’t know what I would do without him. I’m just blessed to have him as a coach.”

Velez spoke of the difficulty of leaving Brearley for QP in his senior year.

“It was very tough, leaving all my best friends behind and coming to a new school,” Velez said. “But it was the best decision for me down the road. It’s going to help me get back to Atlantic City.”

Both Ferinde and Velez are now headed to the NJSIAA state championships this weekend, along with the others who finished either second or third in their respective regions.

For Ferinde, it will be his third sojourn down the Garden State Parkway to compete with the state’s best grapplers. He qualified as a sophomore two years ago, but last year, he won three matches in Boardwalk Hall to finish eighth overall in the state at the same weight class (126).

Needless to say, Ferinde is pumped to get another chance at winning the elusive state championship.

“I feel better than I have all year,” Ferinde said. “Both mentally and physically, I feel great. It’s the end of the year for me and that’s when I really shine. I start getting better and better. That’s when I usually shine.”

Ferinde knows that winning a Region gold medal gives him a first-round bye Friday night in Boardwalk Hall.

“But I can’t look at it any differently,” Ferinde said. “I can’t be too relaxed. I have to be sharp, both physically and mentally. The goal all year was to get back to the podium in Atlantic City. I wanted to do better than I did last year. That’s my main goal, to keep getting better than I was the previous year. I’m really comfortable wrestling in Atlantic City. The atmosphere is amazing. I’m just going to let it fly.”

Ferinde hopes that a good performance this weekend could lead to a college offer. Right now, Ferinde is totally undecided about college. A few wins with the entire state watching might force a college coach to take notice.

Velez said that winning Region 4 was nothing different than winning Region 3, except for the competition being a little tougher.

“I had the same spirit and the same goals,” Velez said. “I just want to win every period, win every match and win the tournament. It really didn’t matter to me what Region I was in. I knew what I had to do. My weight class was pretty tough. Altamura gave me a tough match. I just had to go out there, wrestle and do my thing.”

Unlike Ferinde, Velez has some schools already chomping at the bit, namely Rider and Newberry, both with excellent wrestling programs.

“I have a couple of others, but I want to see what happens this weekend,” Velez said. “Going down there, I’m still going to be a little nervous. But I’m going to be me. I’m going to do what I have to do to win. I’m not going to be as nervous as I was last year. I’m just going to do my thing and make my mark.”

Velez was asked if he was totally healthy for the state tournament.

“I feel very strong right now and I feel good about the way I’ve been wrestling,” Velez said. “I keep getting better each and every week. I’m really excited for this week. I’ve been preparing myself all year for this weekend. I’m going to let it all go on the mat.”

Ferinde and Velez might have been the area’s only champions, but they are not the only local wrestlers to be headed to Atlantic City.

Nutley, led by Region 4 Coach of the Year Frank DiPiano, will have two wrestlers competing this weekend in Ferinde and Darwin Pena, who lost in the finals at 145 pounds.

Queen of Peace, headed by the aforementioned Weaver (a Lyndhurst native), will have four wrestlers on the mats in Atlantic City.

Besides Velez, the Golden Griffins will be represented by Mike Scaravelli, who lost in the finals at 132 pounds by a tough 6-4 decision to Matthew Rose of Hasbrouck Heights/ Wood-Ridge.

The Golden Griffins also have Ray Wetzel, the third place finisher at 120 pounds, and Joe Rocca, who was third at 152 pounds. The Golden Griffins just missed having another state qualifier, when Garrett Beam dropped his consolation round match at 138 pounds.

Three other locals just missed going to Atlantic City. Nutley’s Andrew Aiello lost in the consolation final at 160 pounds. Lyndhurst/North Arlington’s Devin Yunis lost in the semifinals at 120 pounds and Belleville’s Jordan Greene suffered a tough loss in the semifinals at 160.

So the local title hopes rest on the shoulders of Ferinde and Velez, two very capable wrestlers and two Region 4 champions.

For Harrison bowling coach Cucci, labor of love pays off


For more than 20 years, Joe Cucci has taken the Harrison High School bowling team to local lanes in the area and watched the Blue Tide generally come up on the short end of the bowling sheet.

Just two years ago, the Blue Tide won all of four varsity matches.

But last year, Cucci began to see the fruits of his dedication pay off a little.

“We were 12-8 last year,” Cucci said. “That was our second winning season. I’ve watched them develop over the years. They’re such a great group of kids. They’re wonderful to be around.”

Cucci usually gets kids to come out for the Blue Tide who have very little bowling experience, so patience is definitely a virtue.

“But I’ve watched these kids grow up, not just as bowlers, but as people,” Cucci said. “They would get together all the time before the season to bowl together. I knew that this year would be a different year.”

Senior leader Joe Ussery also saw the change in the Blue Tide this season.

“Everyone generally has a good time together,” Ussery said. “We really have a lot of fun. I think that helps with our progression.”

Cucci speaks highly of Ussery.

“He’s very friendly with everyone,” Cucci said. “All the other coaches in the school love him and the other bowlers look up to him and respect him. He’s a wonderful kid to be around.”

Ussery is also the top bowler on the team, with an average around 175 per game.

“I tried to see if I could get that average up a bit this year,” Ussery said. “That was my goal.”

Ussery reached his goal, improving by almost 10 pins per game.

Cucci started to see the progress of the Blue Tide early on this season.

“All of our kids started to bowl well,” Cucci said. “If one (bowler) was off, then another came along to pick the other one up. But they were consistently bowling above their averages.”

The camaraderie of the Blue Tide paid off this season, as they amazingly posted an 18-2 record, which was good enough to capture the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Patriot Division title.

It was the first time in Cucci’s 20-year coaching career that the Blue Tide captured a divisional title. The Blue Tide also finished fifth in the recent NJSIAA North Jersey 1A Sectionals that was won by Lyndhurst en route to the overall state championship.

The Blue Tide clinched their divisional crown recently with a solid win over Queen of Peace.

“It was a very emotional day,” Cucci said. “It was emotional especially since they’re such a great group of kids who are respected not only as bowlers, but as people.”

That is a point that Cucci wanted to drive home, the way that his team was adored and loved as young men and women, even after they leave the lanes.

Senior Felipe Henriques has also been a solid bowler for the Blue Tide for the past four seasons.

“He’s a lively kid with a good sense of humor,” Cucci said of Henriques, who owns a 160 average. “He’s a little off beat.” Junior Sam Mota, who has a 165 average, is more of a silent assassin. “He’s very quiet, but he’s very consistent with his game,” Cucci said. “He’s never too up or too down. I like his consistency.”

Junior Josh Kelly is another with an average of 165. Kelly and Mota will be asked to continue the winning ways next winter.

Senior Ken Lee graduates this year, but was a solid contributor, especially when Cucci had to bowl five starters instead of the conventional four.

“He might have gotten lost in the shuffle a little, but he was there with us,” Cucci said.

Ussery thought that this could be the year that he and his teammates gave Cucci a championship.

“I was hoping for it,” Ussery said. “I thought that maybe it could really happen this year. But to see us pull this off meant the world to me. My coach finally gets his first conference championship after all these years. I’m so proud of my teammates. I’m proud of everyone.”

Ussery is headed to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida in the fall. Full Sail is a school that focuses on the world of entertainment and media, the behind the scenes electronic work in movies, television, sports, video games and web and technology. Ussery is going to study audio engineering in the recording arts program.

“I think the key to our team was consistency,” Ussery said. “We knew that if we put the ball in the same spot, the ball would roll into the pocket and the pins would go down. I know it sounds simple, but that was the goal. We went from four wins two years ago to winning the conference title. How awesome is that? We got 18 wins in my last year. It’s phenomenal.”

And the dedicated coach can now say he coached a champion. It borders on the unthinkable, considering the Blue Tide’s past.

“We just hope that they can continue to develop,” Cucci said. “Our JV (junior varsity) team was undefeated, so there’s a lot of promise. I just hope we can represent Harrison well again next year.”

Win or lose, Cucci’s teams always represent the town and the school well, so when a championship is involved, it makes everything so much sweeter.

QP’s Joseph reaches 1,000-point plateau


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Jeremy Joseph didn’t know how many points he needed to reach the milestone 1,000-point plateau in his career, a total that had been achieved by only 11 other boys’ basketball players at Queen of Peace High School.

But the talented 6-foot-3 junior forward knew he was getting close.

“I figured I was like 50 something away,” Joseph said. “My family kept bringing it up. I was actually mad at them for saying something, because I didn’t want to know. I never talked about it once.”

But when Joseph’s family mentioned the 1,000-point club, it was in his brain.

“Every game, I was bothered by it,” Joseph said. “I just wanted it to be over. I knew it would eventually happen.”

After all, Joseph made scoring 1,000 points in his career a motivational goal when he was still in eighth grade.

“Since I came into the school and saw the banner, I knew I wanted to put my name up there with the rest,” Joseph said.

The list began with Brian St. Leger in 1981 and continued on to James McLane (currently playing at William Paterson University) 30 years later.

“I saw the banner and knew that it would be an accomplishment,” Joseph said.

One of the 11 names on the banners hanging in the school gym is Tom McGuire, Joseph’s head coach, who joined the 1,000-point club in 2003.

“I knew that it was just a matter of time,” McGuire said. “I knew that it wasn’t if, but when.”

After struggling with the milestone for a few games, Joseph finally joined the club last week, when he scored 19 points in a win over Ridgefield Park. He also grabbed 11 rebounds in that game.

Photos by Jim Hague Among the 12 members of the 1,000-point club at Queen of Peace. are Tom McGuire (l.), the current head coach at QP who graduated in 2003, and the newest member, junior Jeremy Joseph (r.), who reached the plateau last week in a win over Ridgefield Park.

Photos by Jim Hague
Among the 12 members of the 1,000-point club at Queen of Peace. are Tom McGuire (l.), the current head coach at QP who graduated in 2003, and the newest member, junior Jeremy Joseph (r.), who reached the plateau last week in a win over Ridgefield


The milestone game was sandwiched around two stellar performances against Secaucus, one in a win, the other in a tough loss.

Joseph had 29 points in a loss to the Patriots, then rebounded to tally 27 points and haul down 13 rebounds in a 59-52 win over the Patriots last Thursday night in the final home game of the season.

For his efforts, Joseph has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Joseph has been honored as Athlete of the Week for the second time, having also received recognition in January 2014.

“To be one of only 12 players, it’s an honor,” Joseph said as he posed under the banner that will eventually bear his name. “I’ve played with a few of them and saw some of them play and I know how talented they were. I know what they’ve done in college. It’s my goal to play in college like them. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance.”

Joseph said that he’s worked out with McLane and 1,000-point members Dwayne Moffatt (2009) and Al-Don Muhammad (2008), both of whom went on to play college basketball at Rutgers- Newark. Muhammad became a 1,000-point scorer for the Scarlet Raiders as well.

Before Muhammad, there was Ryan Kearney in 2004, then there was that guy who Joseph knows all too well.

“I keep reminding Jeremy that he hasn’t passed me yet,” McGuire said. “I’m just proud. He’s following in the footsteps of such great players. I’ve known Jeremy for a long time. I coached him in CYO, so it’s an honor to have him join the others up on the wall.”

“He jokes with me all the time, saying that he was better than me,” Joseph said. “I actually want to beat him.”

The all-time scoring leader is Guy Indyke, who had 1,418 points in his career before graduating in 1985. With another year left to play, Joseph has that all-time scoring record within his reach.

But the scoring didn’t exactly come easy for Joseph this season. Teams were double- and sometimes triple-teaming him, knowing full well that he was the key to the Golden Griffins’ offense.

“It was a lot tougher,” Joseph said. “Every team came out with a plan to stop me. We lost a lot of players from last year, seniors who graduated. So I was basically playing with a totally different team. I thought that if it happened (reaching the 1,000-point plateau) this year, it would be great, but I knew it would happen next year.”

Joseph has worked diligently on his game in order to secure the coveted college scholarship. He’s extended his shooting range to the 3-point circle, where he is consistently making shots. He is playing more with his back to the basket, but his future is definitely as a small forward/shooting guard.

“My family is from Sri Lanka, so they didn’t know anything about basketball,” Joseph said. “But once they realized I could be good, they’ve invested a lot of money and time in me. They’re into it now, because they want to see me go to college. That’s the goal now.”

McGuire knows that Joseph can play on the college level. It’s just a matter of where. With another year to showcase his talents – as well as a summer of playing AAU basketball – Joseph is bound to make some college recruiter happy.

For now, Joseph will concentrate on the Griffins’ upcoming NJSIAA Non-Public B North state playoff game against Morristown-Beard.

The name going on the banner will have to wait another year, until Joseph’s final points for the Golden Griffins are tallied and totaled.

“It really is an honor,” Joseph said. “I really like the feeling, knowing my name will be there forever.”

As for the all-time scoring record in the school’s history? Well, Joseph can’t come close to that. It’s the 2,003 points scored by girls’ basketball standout and 2007 Observer Female Athlete of the Year Courtney Keegan, who had the eighth highest scoring total in Bergen County history. Some things are just a pipe dream. Joseph has to shoot for the boys’ record instead.

Lyndhurst captures overall T of C bowling title

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First time ever for a North Jersey school


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

The Lyndhurst High School bowling team loaded up the team bus and headed south to Carolier Lanes in North Brunswick last Friday with modest expectations.

“Honestly, I was just hoping to see if we could get Group I,” said Lyndhurst second-year head bowling coach Brianna Balkin. “Last year, we finished second in Group I, so I wanted to win that. Last year, we broke all the records, had all the high scores, had the state sectional title and went down there and couldn’t get it together.”

So as the Golden Bears made another sojourn south on the New Jersey Turnpike, Balkin had one thing in mind.

“In my mind, the goal was to win Group I,” Balkin said. “Anything else that happened would be a bonus.”

But as the bus got closer to Carolier Lanes, the aspirations of the bowlers started to rise.

“The kids all wanted to win the whole thing,” Balkin said. “So I said that if we bowled (a combined score of) 3,100, we could win it.”

However, the prospects didn’t look good early on.

“We fell behind by 20 pins after the first game,” Balkin said. “I was thinking, ‘Here we go again.’”

But the Golden Bears seemed to catch lightning in a bottle. Senior Michael Hayes was inserted into the lineup to go along with the Bears’ usual stalwarts Jordan Lopez, Daijon Smith, Ryan Donohue and Emily Young.

“He was huge for us,” Balkin said. “He kept making spares. He said he was nervous and I told him that I needed him to keep making spares.”

That’s what Hayes did, rolling his best score of 190 to go along with the others. The Golden Bears got to 3,202 to win the Group I title over Pompton Lakes. North Arlington, led by standout Tyler Keefe (269 high game) finished sixth.

From there, the Golden Bears moved on to the Tournament of Champions to lock horns with Group IV champion Freehold Township, Group III champ Sayreville and Group II champ Rahway.


Photo courtesy Brianna Balkin The Lyndhurst bowling team gets together for one last group hug after clinching the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title last week.

Photo courtesy Brianna Balkin
The Lyndhurst bowling team gets together for one last group hug after clinching
the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title last week.

Incredibly, the Golden Bears drew the top seed for finishing first in the Group championships and faced Rahway in the semifinals, winning the Baker Series (alternate best ball) bestof- five by a three games to two margin.

From there, it was on to the overall T of C title match against Freehold Township, which defeated Sayreville. Again, there was more drama, right down to the final frames.

“They made things interesting and gave me a heart attack,” Balkin said.

But the Golden Bears prevailed, winning the title series by a similar three games to two margin.

And just like that, Lyndhurst became the first team from northern New Jersey to ever capture the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title.

“It’s been one amazing ride,” Balkin said. “I credit the kids. My seniors, who I call ‘The Fab Five,’ have been tremendous. It’s not just bowling. It’s outside of the lanes. They’ve done so much for this program.”

The seniors are Lopez, Smith, Young, Hayes and Richard Sawires.

“It’s really amazing,” Balkin said. “They put in the work. They practice a lot on their own.”

Balkin said that another key was practicing the Baker system of bowling.

“We did a lot of Baker in college, so I knew that’s what was going to happen if we got to the state level,” Balkin said. “The kids all love Baker. Once they got there (to the T of C semifinals), they knew how to do it and were used to it.”

That experience obviously paid off.

What also helped was the competitiveness of the team, yet the camaraderie. For example, Lopez and Smith are so close as bowlers, with just a few pins separating the two each time they hit the lanes. They also use the same unique style, bowling with two hands instead of the conventional one-handed approach.

But they are also the best of friends, almost inseparable.

“They’re actually like brothers,” Balkin said. “They have a good healthy rivalry. Each wants to beat the other, but after they’re done, they’re always together. It makes a huge difference. They knew if they were going to do this, they needed to do it together. They all want each other to do well. They are so supportive of each other and comfortable with each other.”

The team also had a girl among the top bowlers in Young, who earned the top score overall last week at the NJSIAA North 1A sectionals. Lopez, Smith and Donohue have all bowled perfect games in their lives, so that is also a huge help.

Balkin said that the victory Friday takes away any of the bitterness the team experienced after losing the Bergen County tournament three weeks ago.

“I think that was the turning point of the season,” Balkin said. “We didn’t want to lose then, so that became motivation. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, because ever since then, they were in the bowling alley every single day, practicing and working.”

Balkin said that there was a huge sense of pride becoming the first northern New Jersey team to ever secure the NJSIAA T of C title.

“It’s big for North Jersey,” Balkin said. “A lot of people think that we’re at a disadvantage, being from North Jersey. But we proved we can be just as good as the rest of the state.”

No, better yet, the Golden Bears proved that they can be better than any other team in the rest of New Jersey, winning the overall state title, one for the ages.

“It really is amazing,” Balkin said. “I think it’s something they’ll all remember for the rest of their lives.”

Nutley captures its 4th straight District 14 crown

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Frank DiPiano took over the Nutley High School wrestling program five years ago, he had no idea how long it would take for the Maroon Raiders to become relevant once again.

Little did DiPiano know that he would develop the Maroon Raiders into a dominant force.

That domination continued over the weekend, when DiPiano’s Maroon Raiders, just a few days removed from suffering an emotional setback in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III sectional title match against Voorhees, steamrolled the opposition once again at the NJSIAA District 14 championships, winning for the fourth straight year.

“It’s always the goal to win the league, the county, the state and the district titles,” DiPiano said. “To win our fourth District 14 title in a row, we take a lot of pride in that. We came back from the sectional final and rebounded well.”

The Maroon Raiders crowned three champions in 126-pound champion Joe Ferinde, 132-pound champ Robert Duxbury and 145-pounder Darwin Pena.

Ferinde improved to 33-2 overall with a resounding 16-3 win over Roland Smith of Belleville in the finals.

“He just keeps going,” DiPiano said. “It’s his second district title. It’s impressive at this time of year to have the record he has. He wants to win and advance to get back on the podium in Atlantic City.”

Ferinde finished eighth in the state last year.

Duxbury (33-2) won the District 14 gold last year at 106 pounds, so for him to make such a huge step up in weight and still remain at the top of his game is impressive.

“He has real good technique and he’s a real strong kid for his size,” DiPiano said.

Pena has shown the biggest improvement of any Nutley wrestler in recent memory, going from sub-.500 last year (11-13) to where he’s dominant (33-3) this year.

“He’s on everyone’s radar now,” DiPiano said.

The Maroon Raiders will send 12 wrestlers to the Region 4 tournament this weekend, including five that finished as runners-up in their respective weight classes, namely 120-pounder Kenny Pena, 152-pounder Joseph DiPasquale, 160-pounder Andrew Aiello, 170-pounder Jason Castellanos and 195-pounder Justin Bivona.

Of the five Maroon Raiders to place second, DiPiano was most pleased with Bivona.

“He upset the No. 3 seed, then upset the No. 2 seed to get to the finals,” DiPiano said of Bivona, who now has a 14-13 record this season. “It’s a big turnaround for him. He wrestled complete and smart over the last couple of weeks.”

Belleville crowed two champions in District 14 in 160-pounder Jordan Greene and 220-pounder Edwin Gaines. Both Buccaneer wrestlers earned District 14 gold for a second time.

At District 15, Queen of Peace crowned three champions in 120-pounder Ray Wetzel, 195-pounder Jeff Velez and heavyweight Chima Dunga.

Velez was a district champ for the fourth straight year, having won the prior three in District 11 while competing for Brearley Regional.

Enrique Sanchez (106), Mike Scaravelli (132), Garrett Beam (138), Shaquan Chavis (145) and Joe Rocca (152) all punched their tickets to the region tourney with solid efforts over the weekend.

Lyndhurst/North Arlington had three wrestlers advance to Region 2 in 160-pounder Rocco Russomano, 120-pounder Devin Yunis and 170-pounder Matthew DeMarco.

Kearny saw 170-pounder Lukasz Glazewski advance after losing in the finals of District 16 to Leo Subiza of North Bergen.

Once again, it’s a solid array of wrestling talent that is moving on to either Region 2 or Region 4 this weekend.

Lyndhurst’s Young proves to be more than one of the boys


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Emily Young doesn’t mind being the lone girl competing on the Lyndhurst High School bowling team.

In fact, Young embraces the idea.

“I love bowling with the boys,” Young said. “I love being on the team with so many good bowlers. I actually look up to them. I never have any pressure on me when I’m with them, because I’m never expected to do anything. There’s never the pressure to be the best.”

After all, Young is a member of the state’s premier bowling team that features three members, namely Jordan Lopez, Daijon Smith and Ryan Donohue, who have all bowled perfect 300 games in their lifetimes.

“Basically, I want to do my best for them,” Young said. “I always know that my fiercest competition is the boys on the bus. I always say that to Ryan. I always say that I just want to stay close with the boys on the team.”

Young began bowling at the age of eight.

“I wouldn’t say that I was great right away, but I never bowled with the bumpers,” Young said of the training tools seen at most lanes for beginners. “I joined a recreation league with one of my friends because it seemed like fun.”

However, it didn’t take long for Young to get hooked.

“I wanted to bowl all the time,” said Young, who also plays volleyball at Lyndhurst. “It didn’t take me that long to get pretty good at it.”

Young’s uncle, Michael Gingerelli, was a standout bowler in his own right, winning the Bergen County title at Lyndhurst in 1978. Gingerelli gave Young her first ball.

“He was a big help,” Young said. “So was Ryan’s (Donohue) dad. He’s great. He helped me a lot as well.”

When Young began bowling at Lyndhurst High, she owned a respectable average of 133. But she wasn’t exactly a world beater.

“I just kept working on trying to get better,” Young said. “I had a lot of encouragement from my friends and teammates. Coach (Brianna) Balkin teaches us to never give up.”

“She’s just a great kid who works hard,” Balkin said. “She just loves to be out there and competing.”

Young has gradually improved over the years, rolling to a 179 average last year and 184 this season.

“I got thrown into the varsity lineup, sink or swim,” Young said. “I’m just lucky to be sharing lanes with Jordan, Daijon and Ryan. They’re their own animal.”

Young said that she did get a new ball this season, a 15-pounder that was just a little heavier than the one she had been using.

“I think the weight gives me more action and I’m able to throw a more aggressive ball,” Young said. “There’s definitely a difference.”

Earlier this season, Young won the Bergen County girls’ bowling title, but two weeks ago, she was bowling with and against the boys at the NJSIAA North 1A Sectional at Bowler City in Hackensack.

And Young was beyond sensational, rolling a 759 series, which was the highest score of any bowler present _ male or female.

“For me to beat my teammates is a miracle,” Young said. “I never thought I could beat them, never mind come even close.”

“She was almost unconscious,” Balkin said. “She just went up there, threw the ball and smiled. She was just happy to be there for the team. I never expected her to be the best, to beat her teammates. I thought she might place high, but never above all the rest.”

Young had 269, which was the second highest single game, and the combined-score of 759, which was high series, helping the Golden Bears set a new record for the state sectional and move on to the state Tournament of Champions, which they eventually won.

For her efforts, Young has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“It’s an amazing achievement,” Balkin said of Young winning the overall state sectional singles title. “It’s never happened before.”

In fact, state officials were so unprepared for a girl to win the boys’ state sectional title that they didn’t present Young with the trophy for winning the sectional. The award went to James Kane of Paramus Catholic, who finished second with a 748 series.

How ridiculous was that?

“The rule said that a girl can’t win the boys’ sectional,” Young said. “He (Kane) got a trophy. I got a shout out. When I found out, I was pretty upset. It was terrible. It really was. I guess no one ever thought that a girl could win the boys’ tournament. I was just glad I could compete.”

Balkin said that the boys on her team offer encouragement to Young all the time.

“They all want her to do well,” Balkin said. “They are all so much behind her that I think it eases things up for her. They pick her up. She doesn’t have to worry about being good or being bad. She just has to bowl.”

Young has also been an inspiration to her teammates.

“The boys on the team are all still talking about it,” Balkin said. “We have four other girls on the team who all want to get better. They see what Emily has done, that she’s not just competing as a girl, but with the boys. She’s keeping up with the rest.”

Or in some cases, beating them.

Young competed alone in the NJSIAA girls’ state tournament on Wednesday and finished 25th overall. She then bowled Friday with her teammates and helped the Golden Bears bring home the golden prize.

Young hopes to attend either Sacred Heart University or the University of Delaware in the fall. On target to be the salutatorian for the Lyndhurst Class of 2015, Young hopes to major in social work at whatever school she chooses.

“I definitely want to work with kids,” Young said. “I love children and if I can help them, then that’s my next step.”

Needless to say, Young never imagined she would become a state sectional champion _ make that a boys’ state sectional champ.

“This has been my best year for bowling,” Young said. “I’ve achieved my goals. The team has done tremendously.”

It’s been a dream season for Emily Young and the Golden Bears, truly a golden season.

Local hoop teams head to NJSIAA playoffs


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

For the first time ever, the Kearny boys’ and girls’ basketball teams will be playing NJSIAA state playoff games at the same location against the same school. Both the Kardinal boys and girls qualified for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoffs and the Kardinals will be part of a special doubleheader Monday night (March 2) at Paterson Kennedy.

First, the Kearny girls, the No. 13 seed in the North 1, Group IV bracket, will take on No. 4 seed Paterson Kennedy, with tipoff slated for 4:30 p.m.

Immediately following, it will be the Kearny boys making their first NJSIAA state playoff appearance in six years, taking on Paterson Kennedy at 7 p.m. The Kardinals, who improved to 12-12 overall with a win over Ferris last weekend, earned the No. 14 seed in the bracket.

Qualifying for the state playoffs is a major achievement for second-year head coach Bob McDonnell and the Kardinals.

“Without a doubt, it was one of our main goals coming into the season,” McDonnell said. “So it’s definitely an achievement. It’s been a little frustrating at times, but it’s all been amazing, since all five guys haven’t put it together at once all season. But it’s still a great feeling to see the development of the kids.They want to play. They come in for shootaround practices early and put in the extra effort to get ready for games. Making the state playoffs is a good reward for the kids.”

Gus Chemin had 17 points in the Kardinals’ 62-46 win over Ferris. The Kardinals also enjoyed a win over Memorial in the opening round of the Hudson County Tournament, before falling to Bayonne, 89- 84, in overtime.

Joseph Baez had 19 points, Chemin added 16, Georgie Smyth and Gralen Vereen each had 14 points and Zach Latka added 13 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Bayonne. Latka had 25 points and 10 rebounds in the win over Memorial.

Two other local schools saw both their boys’ and girls’ basketball teams secure state playoff berths.

North Arlington’s boys grabbed the No. 7 seed in North Jersey Section 2, Group I. The Vikings will face American History on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in North Arlington. The NA girls are on the road at New Providence Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Vikings received the No. 13 seed in that bracket.

And the Bloomfield boys and girls are both headed to the postseason.

The Bloomfield boys took the No. 4 seed in North Jersey Section 1, Group IV. The Bengals will play host to Passaic County Tech Monday at 7 p.m. The Bloomfield girls are on the road facing Livingston Monday at 5 p.m. The Bengals are the No. 9 seed in the girls’ bracket.

The only other local team to get a home game is the Harrison girls. The Blue Tide drew the No. 8 seed in North Jersey Section 2, Group I and will face Caldwell Monday night at 7 p.m.

The Nutley girls will travel all the way to West Morris for a first round game in North Jersey Section 2, Group III Tuesday at 7 p.m. The Maroon Raiders are the No. 13 seed in that bracket.

The Lyndhurst girls are also the No. 13 seed in the North Jersey Section 2, Group I bracket. The Golden Bears travel to Morris County to take on Hanover Park Monday at 7 p.m.